My Favorite Moments from our 1st September Safari

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Our guests have just returned home and I have spent some time sorting through all of the wonderful photos taken over the past 10 days.   As I sort through I am reminded of all the great moment so now is the best time to do this blog post of my favorite memories and photos

Yawns and other behavior

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Since big cats spend loads of time resting and stationary, it gives us a chance to observe them and watch familiar behaviors. Our rangers are knowledgeable and I often learn something new. On observing how a lion sits with its paws in front and upturned, the ranger commented that they will lick their paw pads then hold them in this position as a way to cool off. Yawning and dosing off to sleep needs no explanation to those familiar with any type of cat.

Cheetahs

If there was an over all theme to this safari, it would have to be cheetahs. We observed and photographed cheetahs on most of our game drives. Often they were pairs of males who live as a coalition cooperating in hunting and keeping themselves safe from rivals, lions, hyenas, and leopards. We were fortunate to see two cheetah on a fresh kill and we could see how one will eat quickly while the other watches for danger. Other sightings were cheetahs roaming and marking their territory.GS_5008_150902

 

The light on this photo was so nice that I made two images from the one photo. The cropped in version shows the intense eyes and stare of the cheetah surveying his surroundings for food or danger. The full image has the cheetah in context with the texture of the grass, the camouflage of his fur, and the wide open spaces where cheetahs hunt.

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Herds & Mud baths

Photographing individual animals creates a different image compared to a whole herd or mixed herd. A herd creates a negative space that shapes the image as a whole, but within the herd are details and motions of individuals that give interest. In Kruger we see larger herds of Zebra and elephant than on private reserves.

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This time of year where water is more scare, the mud baths are coveted by all species. Many of these holes are started by elephants digging for water, which then grow larger and catch rain. The rhinos love to coat themselves in mud then rub parasites such as ticks off their skin. A good coat of mud also keeps off the flies.

Babies

Two of my favorite baby African animals are the giraffe and rhino.

The baby giraffe, too short to reach any leaves follows its mother tries to imitate her. They are shy but soon will develop the curiosity of the adult giraffes.

GS_4537_150902This safari with photographed baby white rhinos of several different ages. This older baby and his mom approached a mother and baby pair where the baby was much younger. The two young rhinos greeted each other with a nose rub, but one of the mothers became protective and drove the other pair away.

 

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Beauty all around

 

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While drama is all around you in Africa in the rugged landscapes and predators, there are some small, quiet, and subtle beautiful things. The sunsets are the best in the world here fueled by the dust in the air causing the sun to flame up into a huge orange fireball. Some of the birds are very colorful such as this Lilac Breasted Roller.   The harmonious colors of a waterbuck in his environment framed by his symmetrical face are another example of subtle beauty found all around us here.

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Sometimes great moments happen on safari without leaving the lodge.  During breakfast, these hungry giraffes came to nibble the leaf buds.

We had so many nice photographic encounters with this group. Everyone was pleased with their photo collections and each returns with some great memories and new friendships.

 

Other safari reports from past years:

First Day of Safari : http://www.gregorysweeney.photography/?p=3499

Best Time of Year for a South Africa Safari:   http://www.gregorysweeney.photography/?p=4056

Safari Report May 2015 : http://www.gregorysweeney.photography/?p=4171

Favorite Moments from September 2014 : http://www.gregorysweeney.photography/?p=3869

See our Current Photo Safari Schedule

 

Safari Story: Which Vulture Eats Last?

 

One vulture is smaller and not trying to feed
One vulture is smaller and not trying to feed

 

We were on a morning game drive when we came upon vultures who had nearly finished a predator’s abandoned impala meal.  One vulture stood apart from the rest and did not nudge into the crowd.  He was a bit smaller than the others, but this is not why he eats last.  He can wait because he knows there will be flesh left for him after the others leave.

Vultures have a specific job to do  but to do it right takes specialization.  Species of vulture have evolved to specialize in the many jobs needed to process down a carcass.  Each vulture species has a different set of tools for different jobs.

The Hooded Vulture is the smallest vulture we see on safari.  Its is the only one that can pick the meat out between the ribs and other small crevices.  Other vultures with bigger beaks can not reach this meat so the Hooded Vulture eats last.

Hooded Vulture
Hooded Vulture

The Cape Vulture is the most common vulture in South Africa.   They have a big strong beak and can feed on any carcass that has been chewed on by a predator.  If they are lucky enough to find a freshly dead carcass they might be out of luck.  Many hides are too tough for the birds to tear. They have no choice but to wait for one of two things:  the carcass splits open from natural process or someone else opens it for them be it predator, scavenger, or another species of vulture

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Cape Vulture

The Lappet Faced Vulture is very large and has the strongest  beak that can rip open the tough hides of hippos and similar.  Vultures standing around not eating are waiting for the Lappet so they can all enjoy the meal.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

 

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White vs Black Rhino: What are the differences?

South Africa has two species of rhino: the White Rhino which is the largest population and most commonly seen and the Black Rhino which is not as numerous and harder to spot.

The two species are distinct and here are a few of the differences most important to photographers.

Quick Comparison

White Rhino / Square-lipped Rhino Black Rhino / Hooked-lipped Rhino
weight up to 2 tons weight up to 1.2 tons
2 Horns 2 Horns
1.8m tall 1.6m tall
Grazer: Eats grass Browser: Eats trees, shrubs and herbs
has a wide mouth suitable for grazing Has pointed upper lip that can grasp
poor eyesight, good hearing & smell poor eyesight, good hearing & smell
can live 40 – 45 years can live 40 – 45 years
Social Mostly solitary
A young black rhino grasps some leaves
A young black rhino grasps some leaves
White Rhino  demonstrates grass chewing
White Rhino demonstrates grass chewing
Black Rhino: the lip can grasp like the tip of an elephant trunk
Black Rhino: the lip can grasp like the tip of an elephant trunk
White Rhino: wide mouth and 2 horns
White Rhino: wide mouth and 2 horns

 White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum)

  • Has a wide mouth suited to grazing.
  • Lives in social groups. Tends to be found in groups of 10 – 15 or smaller groups such as mother and small and juvenile calfs, or young males.
  • 2nd largest land mammal next to African Elephant
  • Has long necks and wide mouths for eating grass. Can not lift head very high – this can cause drowning when in deeper water.
  •  When threatened or nervous they stand in a circle with their rears together forming a barricade with calves near the centre.
  • The calf walks in front of the mother, with the mother using her horn to direct the calf by tapping it on the rear

 

White Rhino: standing is a defense position with an ear and nose in each direction.
White Rhino: standing in a defensive position with an ear and nose in each direction.
White Rhino: Mother with baby
White Rhino: Mother with baby
White Rhino
White Rhino

Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis)

  • Browsers. Use their pointed upper lips like a miniature elephant trunk to twist off low growing branches of trees and shrubs. A short neck makes reaching possible.
  • Have a reputation to be bad tempered, but are actually just shy and inquisitive.   They will run towards anything unusual in their surroundings, but usually run away if they smell humans if unfamiliar to them. Some individual rhinos are very nervous and a female with a calf will charge anything she considers a potential threat
  • It is the fastest rhino with top speed of 55 km/ hr
  • More likely to be found in solitary keeping to the bushy areas
  • Has long necks and wide mouths for eating grass. Can not lift head very high – this can cause drowning when in deeper water.
  • Must drink at least every two to three days unless succulent plants are part of their diet
  • The female will often walk in front of the calf possibly because she is clearing a pathway of danger and hazard for the baby.

 

Black Rhino
Black Rhino
Black Rhino: two rhino cautiously check out our vehicle
Black Rhino: two rhino cautiously check out our vehicle

A Selection of Safari Videos from South Africa

Most of my time is spent taking wildlife stills. I believe the still photo is capable of communicating a great deal, but some situations require video to tell a complete story. Here is a collection of some short videos shot with my Canon 5D MK3 while on safari

Lions relaxing after a nighttime kill and morning feed

A young male lion chews on some bones

African penguins swim to the beach and crawl out

Small Cats of South Africa seen on Photo Safari

The lions, cheetahs and leopards – the big cats – get a great deal of attention during safaris.  Quietly hunting and living in the bush are smaller species of cats. These less celebrated cats are very interesting to see and watch and have loads of charisma.

On my photo safaris in South Africa I have been thrilled to see three small cat species with some frequency.

The Caracal

Caracals are widely distributed throughout South Africa. They are distinguished by  the long block tufts on the tip of their ears.  Their tail is relatively short and they are a uniform tawny color.  They live mainly on prey smaller than 5 kg including springhares, mice, and birds.  They leap into the air to catch birds in mid flight.

Caracals are great fun to watch as they hunt and attack.  They are daytime hunters which increases our chances to find them active. They seem unfazed by our presence in the safari vehicle.

caracal showing ear tufts Caracal caracal hunting photo safari with caracal

 

African Wild Cat

As you can tell immediately from looking at an African Wild Cat that they are ancestors of the domestic cat.  On my first encounter with one I was sure someone had lost or dumped their cat in Kruger park.  They are found all over the African continent and middle east.  They hunt primarily mice, rats, and small mammals but fish, birds, reptiles, and insects are taken if the opportunity arises.  The hunt is typically at twilight or night and the method is with stealth and pouncing.

We are lucky to have several roaming our reserve and every sighting is special, but my first reaction is still to think of a domestic cat – until I notice the long legs and unique red markings.

African wild cat in Kruger African Wild Cat African Wild Cat in South Africa

 

Serval

Servals are considered the best hunters in the cat world with a 50% kill rate (for comparison, a domestic cat’s rate is 10%). They hunt by stealth then jump onto the prey incapacitating them with their weight, then give a fatal bite to the neck.

The serval has the longest legs of any cat  in proportion to its body.  Its spots sometimes cause it to be mistaken for a young leopard or cheetah.  Many are killed because of this mistaken identity and because they hunt chickens on farms.  They are the subject of conservation efforts to reintroduce them to southern areas of South Africa.

This is a cat I wish I would see more often.  They are very interesting to watch while hunting and they are as beautiful and dramatic to photograph as cheetahs.

Serval sitting serval yawning serval with spots serval sitting serval out hunting on night game drive

While everyone loves the African favorites: lion, zebra, leopard, etc.  the longer I spend in the bush, the more fascinated I become with the lesser know species.

I like to present and emphasize the total ecosystem view to my safari guests teaching them to see and appreciate how large and small species all interconnect.  There is so much here to see and learn and it keeps us coming back.

Join one of our photo safaris  and help us seek out the amazing small cats of South Africa

Current Photo Safari Dates

Favorite Moments from my Photo Safari

What is the Best Season to go on Safari?

Favorite Moments from my September Photo Safaris

I have just finished 2 very successful photo safaris in South Africa.  I had a wonderful group of guests this year and together we had loads of fun and adventure.  I want to thank them for making this a very memorable safari season and I hope to travel with them again and keep in touch.   A special memory for me is safari guests who returned this year and said it was even better than last time!

We saw so much in the past month that it is hard to keep the favorites to a short blog post.

First, the thrill of seeing one of the many majestic species of antelope in beautiful light.  This is a male kudu.

male kudu

 

We were fortunate to see many leopards this trip.  Most were in the Sabi Sands Reserve.  This is a most typical leopard sighting, but still a thrill and beautiful to see.  favourite safari moments journal

A hippo has died and the carcass provides food for a range of species.  We returned several times to the sight to see a couple different leopards grabbing a meal. A hyena was near by and made off with a very large hippo leg.  The main carcass was much to heavy for even a leopard to drag off, but it was interesting to watch it try and to see its feeding methods.

leopard on a kill

We hosted some bird enthusiasts this time and there is plenty to keep them excited.  This is a fairly rare saddlebilled stork.  This is one of many species the  birding guests were able to add to their life list of birds.

saddle billed stork

Also the Lilac Breasted Roller is common, but very beautiful to photograph.  It is a contest among us and with myself to best our past images of this bird.

lilac breasted roller bird

I can watch elephants for hours: they are so interesting and in total control of their environment.  They are machines the way they tear down large trees, strip bark with a trunk that seems more useful than hands, and the way to can pick out just the blades of grass they want.  I dont know how they can ingest so many thorns and live.

elephant eating

This leopard has caught an impala.   She is thinking of stashing the kill up in a tree so no other predators can get it and she can eat at her leisure in peace.

leopard looks for a place to stash his kill

Cheetahs are one of the most photogenic of cats.  They look great up close and photographed at a distance.  We followed this brother coalition for a while as they went out hunting. They were searching for herds of prey and a good position to run an ambush.

two cheetahs hunting together

Just a short walk from our tree houses at the lodge there are so many photo subjects.  These weavers had several losses of nests due to wind.  This is their 3rd attempt and it is fascinating to watch the progress and construction technique.

red headed weaver building a nest

We are near a reserve with rare white lions.  They have some cubs at the moment which are too cute for words.   The mom is very grouchy and the male cut short our visit when he made some threats to our vehicle.

white lion cub white lion mother

Even without the animals, there are some places you just most stop to appreciate. scenic Klaserie River

Back at the lodge we can get some great shots of giraffes as they visit the watering hole.  This photo session lasted for nearly and hour and the guests were able to work their way very close and get ground level shots of them drinking.

guests photographing giraffes at our watering hole

 

I am already looking forward to coming back in .  Please let me know if you are thinking of joining.  We are filling safaris now so do not miss out !

see our Current Safari Schedule

Photographing Giraffes

Our 2nd safari group has had some really great wildlife encounters.  The giraffes have been especially easy to photograph.  I though I would feature them with a special gallery.  All of these images were taken in the first 2 days of safari and many taken right at the lodge.

photographing giraffes
A guest gets close and low angle shots

herd of giraffes at Bona Ntaba tree house lodge

baby giraffe - 2 weeks old
A baby giraffe aged 2 weeks
photographing giraffes on safari
Giraffes look at us as we sit on the deck by the pool
giraffe drinking
Giraffes must spread their legs to get low enough to drink
close up of a giraffe eating
Using its tongue to wrap around the thorns then pull the leaves off

giraffe takes a drink

baby giraffe
A baby giraffe aged 1+ month

two giraffes

 

giraffes drinking at the watering hole
A guest photographs giraffe drinking at the water hole

Know Your Antelope: The difference between Nyala and Kudu and Waterbuck?

How do I tell the difference between a Nyala , Waterbuck, and a Kudu?

The Kudu and Nyala are antelope both found in South Africa.  They have similarities, especially  in the females, but once you know the differentiating features, you can quickly tell them apart.  Here are some images to help you learn each species.

You can see both of these antelopes on my small group photo safaris

Male Nyala
Male Nyala

A nyala ram is shorter and darker than the kudu. Both animals have a shag and hump, but the nyala’s hump is smaller and the stripes more pronounced against the darker, longer, coat.  They browse grass and shrubs.

Male Kudu
Male Kudu

The male kudu has a pronounced hump  and a smaller amount of back fringe.

 

Male Nyala
The male nyala  horns make one tight twist then grow straight up.
Male Kudu Horns
The kudu’s horn makes a corkscrew spiral  and adds spirals with age.
Male Kudu
Male Kudu

 

female nyala
Female Nyala

The female nyala is much lighter in color than the male

A female kudu is very similar in shape to the male, but without the horns and beard and is a slightly more yellow and lighter coat.

female kudu
Female kudu display the same silhouette with hump, but are lighter in color

Waterbuck

The waterbuck is distinctive and is not normally found far from a water source.

Male waterbuck
Male waterbuck

Both male and female have the same basic body shape.  The female is a bit lighter coloration.

The male’s horns are straight with the tips pointing up.  They have ridges ringing them.  Both male and female have the white, round “toilet seat”  marking on their rear and white markings on the brow ridge of their eyes.

Female waterbuck
Female waterbuck
Male waterbuck with rear marking
Male waterbuck with rear marking

My current photo safari dates

What is the Best Season to Visit South Africa for a Safari?

See these beautiful antelope and many more on one of our photo safaris   Photo Safaris with Gregory Sweeney

Know Your Subject: Elephant Bonding and Greeting with Their Trunks

For a wildlife photographer, the more you know your subject,  the better informed your images will be.  Knowledge helps you anticipate and interpret the natural actions of your subjects.

Elephants are very smart and interesting subjects, especially when you can pick out social behaviors – some you may recognize from our own human experience.

Elephant Male Bonding

In the matriarchal world of elephants, males are known as mostly independent sorts.  Females maintain close, lifelong family ties, while bulls tend to wander off solo; at times bonding with another male or more a loose group of males.

During a six year study in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, , Stanford University behavioral ecologist Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwill observed for the first time intense, long-lasting bonds among a dozen or so bulls; a tight-knit group of teenagers, adults, and seniors . Other males serve as mentors and mediators for younger ones,  enforcing a strict social hierarchy and keeping underlings in line when hormones rage and rowdiness may erupt.In drought-prone  Namibia, rank becomes most rigid when water is scarcest.  “In dry years the strict pecking order they establish benefits all of them.” OConnell-Rodwell says.”Everyone know their place.” That means young bulls supplicate more frequently to their elders and peace is maintained while everyone gets to drink.

Trunk Talk:  Close up communication is done vocally and via smell and touch. These gestures show affection:

elephants greet each other
two junior elephants greet each other with a caress of the head

Elephant communication with trunks
Elephants will test their strength against peers and sometimes against trusted elders. This practice fight ended abruptly when the younger took an accidental tusk to the eye

junior greets and elder
A junior elephant greets a senior with deference with a caress then places the tip of his trunk in the elder’s mouth

elephants greeting eachother
An over the head caress by a dominant elephant is akin to humans tousling another’s hair.

Mock elephant fight
A mock fight between a junior and elder establishes rank among the group.

Being Young in the Bushveld: Photographing cubs in Sabi Sands Reserve

Very Special Encounters with Young Animals of All Types 

photographing leopard cubs in Sabi
Leopard cub follows its mother through the grass

We just spent a spectacular 2 days in Sabi and another in the big cat reserve.  There seemed to be young animals every where:  baby giraffes, zebras, and elephants.

mother and young giraffe on our photo safari
Mother and young giraffe come to drink
photographic safari zebras
baby zebra and family at sunset
baby elephants
Two baby elephants

 

Our first evening we were treated to lion cubs and the whole pride.  They played while walking with their father, nursed from their mother, and did some exploring.

Lions in Sabi Sands
A cub walks with a juvenile male, probably a brother
wildlife safari in Africa with lions
Lion pride mosh pit with the whole family together
photographing lion cubs on photo safari
This cub is not too confident about climbing a tree

The lions were great and the food and quiet star-filled sky at night was very nice,  but for me  our second morning was the best.  We found a mother leopard and her cubs out for a walk.  They follow obediently behind her then when we stopped,  they had a chance to nurse.  Then it was back to some exploring and games with mom close by.  More nursing and a quick clean by mom and it was time to find shade and a nap.

leopard kittens
playing with mom
mother and leopard cubs on photo safari in South Africa
Mom leopard nursing her two cubs
Leopard of Sabi Sands photo safari
One cubs gets a meal while the other gets a quick clean up from mom
leopard cubs playing
Playing attack games